There has always been something captivating about Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li. From the minimalist mix of icy electronics and playful indie pop of her 2008 debut Youth Novels to the weightier, percussive anthems on 2011's Wounded Rhymes, she has flexed her considerable creative muscle but never quite managed to dial in on a sound that would define her. She manages a tunefulness that aspires to great pop heights, yet retains the wintry austerity of her Nordic roots. On her third album, 2014's I Never Learn, she manages to meld both of those assets into a beautifully crafted set of lonesome break-up ballads. Like a snowbound version of Beck's Sea Change, the album gets sad and personal on somber tracks like "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone" and "Sleeping Alone," which count among some of the sparer arrangements. Co-producing with longtime collaborator Björn Yttling (of Peter Björn and John), Li has built a true Wall of Sound around her songs, adding enough reverb to last the rest of her career. Most of the time this works well, with excellent tracks like "Just Like a Dream" and the huge pop ballad "Never Gonna Love Again" reaching for the skies with anthemic choruses that could very well vault her into the pop stardom she's been flirting with for years. It's not a particularly warm album either in tone or delivery, and there remains the feeling of being kept at arm's length even as Li spills her heart out. But perhaps that unattainability is part of her allure. She sounds every bit the wounded princess, unwilling to let anyone help her pick up the pieces as she delivers these lovely, sad songs from behind a shroud of her own making.
I Never Learn Review
by Timothy Monger